THE MSP behind a Bill that would legalise assisted suicide in Scotland has claimed to have the support of the majority of medical professionals and the public after several prominent doctors spoke out in favour of her proposals.
Margo MacDonald, who introduced the Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill to the Scottish Parliament, said she was "cock-a-hoop" that 11 doctors had entered the fray to back the proposed legislation. They support her argument that sufficient safeguards were in place to ensure terminally ill patients could not be coerced into ending their lives if it becomes law.
Writing in The Herald yesterday, a group of senior clinicians that included psychiatrists, surgeons and retired GPs said they believed measures to protect the vulnerable, which include a three-stage scrutiny process, were "comprehensive and rigorous".
However, campaign group Care Not Killing has said a series of bodies representing doctors, including the British Medical Association and the Association For Palliative Medicine, were against the law, while Dr Stephen Hutchison, an Inverness-based consultant physician in palliative medicine, said evidence showed the "overwhelming majority" of doctors were "resolutely opposed".
Ms MacDonald, who failed in 2010 to bring in legislation to legalise assisted suicide, said polls had shown opinion had continued to shift in its favour and that she believed her Bill had a "very good chance" of winning the backing of a majority of MSPs, who will be allowed to vote on conscience rather than party lines.
"I am delighted these very respected doctors have put their name to it," said Ms MacDonald, a former SNP MSP who now sits as an independent for the Lothian region. "I think they are typical of the majority of doctors, certainly most of the doctors I meet are in favour, although I can see why they do not speak out. I am confident the public and medical profession are with me on this and I hope MSPs realise that.
"We have a very good Bill. I have a feeling there is much more support in Parliament this time. I am sure it is an indication that opinion across society is moving towards supporting assisted death in strictly defined cases. We are not saying anyone can ring the doctor and say, 'I've had enough, give me a jag', but some people can't have a peaceful death that all of us would want and have to undergo a horrible end of their life in great agony.
"If we have a group of people who are trained and supported to help a person bring their life to an end, and they have to abide by rules of doing this service and report themselves afterwards, I think we are pretty well covered."
Under the Bill, introduced in November, criminal liability would be removed for those helping people with terminal or life-shortening conditions end their lives if a strict process is followed.